Mark Zuckerberg famously launched Facebook from his Harvard University dorm room in 2004. And Elon Musk, at just 24, created an Internet "city guide" for newspapers -- which he sold a few years later for $300 million.
Both are now billionaires. And both are now pushing for the establishment of "universal basic income," a government program that would give all citizens a set amount of taxpayer money, regardless of whether they have jobs. Even billionaires.
On Independence Day, Zuckerberg took to Facebook to recount a recent trip to Alaska — and how the state's similar program for residents works.
You can read the whole thing below, but in essence the post praised Alaska's Permanent Dividend Fund, a $52-billion pile of cash from oil revenues that the state government doles out to citizens each year, usually $1,000 to $2,000 at a time.
"This is a novel approach to basic income in a few ways," Zuckerberg wrote. "First, it's funded by natural resources rather than raising taxes. Second, it comes from conservative principles of smaller government, rather than progressive principles of a larger safety net. This shows basic income is a bipartisan idea."
That approach is one that "may be a lesson for the rest of the country," he wrote.
The benefits of such a system are twofold, he wrote.
"First, a common issue with safety net programs is stigma for participating, but here everyone we met was proud of this — both for its cultural heritage and for the individual accomplishment of catching and preparing their salmon. Second, most effective safety net programs create an incentive or need to work rather than just giving a handout."
Musk, who moved on to Tesla and SpaceX after selling his internet company, also thinks people will need a universal basic income to survive in the future.
"I think we'll end up doing universal basic income," Musk told a crowd at the World Government Summit in Dubai in February. "It's going to be necessary" because of automation, which will replace millions of workers over the next 30 years.
"There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better," he said. "I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen."
Other billionaires agree, like Y Combinator President Sam Altman and eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar.
But what's never mention is the strings that will come with the "free" cash. The government will control the handouts — and they will, of course, need to come from taxpayer funds, as not every state has the oil reserves found in Alaska. And the cost would be astronomical. To hand out $10,000 to every adult in America would require taxes to be raised by 10%, Nasdaq wrote in April. This as the U.S. struggle to solve its trillion-dollar health crisis.
What's more, the call from the billionaires seems to reek of hubris — they could become billionaires through their brilliance, but most people can't. Therefore, we'll all just have to give them money for life.
Perhaps such a program will be needed as the world works through the changes sure to come from computers and automation. But as a start, maybe, just maybe, the massive corporations that now dodge U.S. taxes could pay their fair share in taxes. It won't solve the problem, but it'll be a start.